The hazelnut was named Oregon’s state nut in 1989. Today, around 1,000 Oregon farm families grow hazelnuts on over 87,000 acres. Traditional hazelnut harvesting techniques require a “clean floor”. Therefore, most hazelnut orchards maintain bare grounds to reduce competition between vegetation and the trees. However, bare ground causes soil erosion which reduces soil productivity and pollutes waterways.
Local farmer, Dan Brown, has a mix of mature and young hazelnut orchards in Washington County. He is looking for practical ways to maximize his production while also caring for the soil that his hazelnut trees depend on. To address some of his soil concerns, like erosion, Dan looked to cover cropping bare ground in his Orchard.
What are cover crops?
Cover crops are temporary vegetation that can be planted on the fields in between growing seasons. Some farmers choose to plant permanent cover crops in areas that aren’t in production, such as in between crop rows or along field edges.
On hazelnut orchards, cover crops are commonly planted in the fall after harvest and then terminated with herbicide or a flail mower in the spring to prepare for the next hazelnut growing season. Cover crops are usually a variety of grains, grasses, and legumes that are adapted to the climate, and each serve their own purpose.
How do cover crops support soil health?
Keeping plants in the ground all year long serves many purposes. Cover crops can increase water infiltration, add organic matter, break up compaction, and reduce further compaction. Planting cover crops on bare ground reduces soil erosion. Grasses with fibrous root structures help stabilize the soil. Other plants, like legumes, can replenish soil nitrogen and nutrients. Dan was looking to increase nitrogen in the soil and reduce erosion in his orchards. He ultimately decided that he wanted to seed a temporary cover crop with a mixture of oats, clover, and peas.
How did Dan get started?
The cover cropping process can be costly, but there are resources available to ease the financial burden on farmers. Dan contacted his local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office and applied for the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program. This program offers financial assistance for farmers looking to implement practices like conservation cover, cover cropping, mulching, and field borders. Dan was approved for the grant, which he used to purchase his cover crop seed. Next, all he needed was a seed drill to plant the seeds, and that’s where we came in.
Tualatin SWCD’s Tool Loan Program
Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District owns a seed drill that is available to rent to Washington County farmers, like Dan, who want to implement no-till cover cropping or pasture overseeding. Read about the benefits of no-till farming here.
“This is our first year, so we are dipping our toes into the water, we don’t want to cause more problems than we solve. The drill was easy to use. I had never used a [no-till] drill before and was able to get the desired outcome with little trouble”, says Dan. For anyone looking to implement cover cropping in their orchards, Dan recommends trying it. “Start small, do a lot of research, contact your local NRCS conservationist or Soil and Water Conservation District for assistance, and don’t give up if you don’t get the desired outcome the first time.”
Interesting in learning more about cover cropping? Connect with our Rural Conservation Program.